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Weapon choice and American political violence: A comparison of terrorists and other felons in federal custody

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Research Summary

The criminal use of firearms presents a unique challenge to policymakers and is the subject of scientific study in fields such as criminology, public health, sociology, and law. Previous research has described firearm use by terrorists in the United States as uniformly common; however, little systematic attention has been focused on this phenomenon. Although valuable, progress in this area has been hampered by the absence of reliable quantitative information. Using data from the American Terrorism Study and the U.S. Sentencing Commission, we examine the firearm-offending characteristics of 923 federal felons and 336 terrorists.

Policy Implications

Findings indicate that many systematic differences exist between terrorists and other types of federal felons and that terrorists are more likely than other felons to be convicted of firearm-related crimes. We recommend that official efforts to monitor weapons sales—such as the Brady Act—continue to include those named on the terrorist watch list and that those named on the list be subject to additional law-enforcement scrutiny when attempting to purchase firearms. These efforts should be coordinated by federal law-enforcement agencies to facilitate the effective use of existing antiterrorism mechanisms in both blocking purchases and garnering intelligence on terrorists attempting to obtain firearms.
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Keywords: felons; firearms; sentencing; terrorism; weapons

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Post-doctoral research fellow and co-director of the Terrorism and Preparedness Data Resource Center (TPDRC) and START's Empirical Analysis of Improvised Explosive Devices Project. 2: Doctoral student in the Department of Criminology at The University of Maryland at College Park.

Publication date: 2009-08-01

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